This week marks the beginning of the Great Fast with services every day culminating in the Liturgy on Sunday where we celebrate the victory of the Church over the Inconoclast movement and the restoration of the Holy Icons. This happened not too far after the 7th Ecumenical Council where the teaching on Icons was defined, however, peace over this matter was not restored until a local synod was called in Constantinople and a triumphant procession was held to the great cathedral at Hagia Sophia on the 19th February 842 (the first Sunday of Great Lent that year). The Synod also decreed that a perpetual feast be observed each year on the First Sunday of Great Lent, and named the day, “the Sunday of Orthodoxy”
Please note: The Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian is said with morning and evening prayers by all Orthodox Christians throughout Lent, except on Saturdays and Sundays.
The Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian:
O Lord and Master of my life, give me not a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition or vain talking. Prostration.
But rather a spirit of purity, humility, patience and love, bestow on me Thy servant. Prostration.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou to the ages of ages. Amen. Prostration.
O God, cleanse me, a sinner. (12 times, with a bow made for each)
Then the entire prayer:
O Lord and Master of my life . . . with one prostration made at the end.
MOSCOW: January 6, 2012 Christmas Message of His Holiness Patriarch KIRILL of Moscow and All Russia to the Archpastors, Pastors, Monastics and All the Faithful Children of the Russian Orthodox Church. Republished from the ROCOR Synod Website
Your Eminences the Archpastors, Honorable Fathers,
God-Loving Monks and Nuns, Dear Brothers and Sisters!
On this radiant and joyful feast of the Nativity in the flesh of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, I cordially greet you all, my dear ones. On this light-bearing night together we prayerfully echo the doxology of the angels, proclaiming “great joy to all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior” (Luke 2:10-11).
Humanity, which rejected God in the Fall, discovers anew the chance to be united with its Creator and Provider. The coming of the Son of God into the world is his voluntary self-abnegation, ready to descend to a tortuous and shameful “death – even death on the cross” (Philippians 2:8). God is born in the flesh so that He may manifest His love to people and help every person willing to listen to His call to find the fullness of life.
That is why today’s feast grants to us the immutable hope of help from above in the most complex situations of our life. God, Who has not abandoned His creation and has revealed to it the way to eternity, is revealed to us in the Infant Christ, a defenseless Child in need of care and love.
All of us must retain in our hearts this Biblical image. In recalling the Divine Infant lying in a manger, we acquire a firm faith and indestructible hope in Divine Providence leading to the good of every human person. And even if in our life no support remains, if all seems to be unsure and unreliable, we are to realize clearly that the Lord can transform through His gracious power the pain, suffering and poverty of our world into happiness, joy and an abundance of spiritual gifts.
On the feast of the coming of the Savior the mental gaze of the faithful is turned towards the cradle of Christianity, the Holy Land, which was deemed worthy to be the place of the birth, abode and earthly ministry of the Lord. Today, Christ’s followers in the countries where the events of sacred history took place are experiencing difficult trials, encounter new threats to the existence of centuries-old spiritual traditions. During these radiant days of the Nativity, let us offer up ardent prayers for our brothers in the faith, the guardians of precious holy sites, the inheritors of the tradition of ancient Christianity.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). These words of the Apostle concern not only the members of a single parish, a single church community. Indeed, they embrace all of the children of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, the Orthodox Church spread throughout the world. Her unity abides not only in a single patristic faith and communion in the sacraments but also in the sharing of hardships together, in sacrificial ministry towards each other, in mutual prayer. The past year has been difficult in the life of many countries and nations, including those who live in the expanse of historical Russia: many tragic events and cataclysms have proved to be a trial of our faith and steadfastness.
However, today the worst tribulations occur not in the material but in the spiritual realm. The dangers which abide on the physical plane have a negative impact on our physical well-being and comfort.
And while making the material aspect of life more complex, they nevertheless cannot do essential harm to the life of the spirit. Yet it is precisely the spiritual dimension which sheds light on the most important and grave challenge to our view of the modern world. This challenge is aimed at the destruction of the sense of morality embedded in our souls by God. Today we are told that the human person is the measure – and sole measure – of truth, that each individual has his own truth and that each individual decides for himself what is good and what is evil. The divine truth, and this means the distinction between good and evil that is founded on this Truth, is being substituted by a moral indifference and permissiveness which destroys people’s souls and denies them eternal life. If natural disasters and wars ruin the external structure of life, then moral relativism corrodes ones conscience, making us spiritual invalids, distorts the divine laws of being and breaks the connection between creation and Creator.
We are to resist this danger in the first instance by calling to our help the Most-Pure Virgin and the host of God’s saints so that through their intercession before the Throne of the “Sovereign Lord, holy and True” (Revelations 6:10), now venerated in the image of the newborn Infant, they may beseech for us the strength to combat sin and fight “against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). It is important to learn how to recognize the deceits and illusions of earthly well-being in our destructive addictions, in our greedy strivings, in the temptations of advertisements, in the entertainment industry and political propaganda. It is important at all times to listen to the voice of our conscience warning us of the danger of sin, to be able to make our actions fit the commandments of the Gospel.
Now, as always, each Christian is called upon to assert through his everyday actions the dignity of a righteous way of life, to consciously resist moral relativism and the cult of getting rich quickly. We are surrounded by a great number of infirm, sick and lonely people. There are also many who out of economic necessity have left their homes in search of a wage and need our care, often finding themselves in a hostile environment. Every pastor and layman is to participate in the social, missionary and public life of the Church. As St Innocent of Chersonese says: “It is only in the light of Christ that we can see God, see ourselves and see the world in its true aspect; it is only through the guidance of heavenly Revelation that we can find the path leading to life eternal.”
With those who hope for the consolation of Christ we are to share warmly the joy of today’s feast. Each of us can bring the light of the star of Bethlehem to those close to us and far from us – to our colleagues, friends, relatives and neighbors.
In the past year, working with the state authorities, public organizations and the representatives of the business community, many initiatives have been undertaken that can unite people and revive the strong spiritual and moral foundations of public life.
The development of this cooperation, as well as witness to the precious unity of our Church, was aided by my trips throughout Russia, Ukraine and Moldova. These visits enriched my experience of prayer and communion with the faithful and, I hope, helped to strengthen our spiritual ties. In divine worship attended by a huge number of people, the strength of faith and prayer which is the beauty of Orthodoxy, the beauty and power of “the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3), manifested itself in a special way.
In congratulating all of you on the Nativity of Christ and the New Year, I prayerfully wish that you abide unfailingly in the joy of the Lord who was incarnate so that “we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7). “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). Amen.
PATRIARCH OF MOSCOW AND ALL RUSSIAThe Nativity of Christ
В ночь с 6 на 7 января 2012 года, в праздник Рождества Господа Бога и Спаса нашего Иисуса Христа, Святейший Патриарх Московский и всея Руси Кирилл совершил в кафедральном соборном Храме Христа Спасителя Рождественские богослужения — великое повечерие, утреню и Божественную литургию.
THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST – Why should I be an Orthodox Christian?
WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?
The word Gospel is used all the time in the media, by religious people, and even as a genre of music. But what is the Gospel?
The Gospel is the good news that:
I. Jesus is the Messiah.
II. Christ is risen!
III. We can be saved.
So what does this mean? I. Jesus is the Messiah
It’s apparent to anyone who’s awake these days that there’s something wrong with the world. Of course, it’s not just the world that has something wrong with it, but as Alexander Solzhenitsyn once said, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.” Every human being has evil in his heart, whether he sees it or not, and this evil separates him from God, his Creator (Rom. 3:23; 1 Jn. 1:10). This is what sin is.
The word sin means “to miss the mark.” Sin is therefore not only separation from God but also the failure to live up to the full potential of what God created us to be, created beings filled with the uncreated energy of God Himself, in intimate communion with our Creator, united with Him in both body and soul (Eph. 4:13).
Jesus, Who is the eternal Son of God Who became a human being, just like any of us, is therefore our Messiah (“Christ,” “anointed one”) because He came to Earth to save us from the separation of sin and from the power of death. Because He is both God and man, He bridges within Himself the gap that formed because of sin. His coming was foretold in the ancient Hebrew scriptures (the Old Testament), and when He came about 2,000 years ago, history was forever changed.
II. Christ is risen!
The greatest moment in the history of the world was the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Leading up to that moment was His birth from the Virgin Mary by the will of God the Father and by the power of God the Holy Spirit (Lk. 1:35). He grew up as one of us, lived, gathered His disciples around Himself, healed the sick, and taught about the Kingdom of God.
The defining moments of Jesus’ life on Earth were His suffering and death on the cross, followed by His miraculous bodily resurrection from the dead. Although people had been raised from the dead before in the history of God’s work with mankind, Jesus was the first to raise Himself from the dead, showing that He is God (Jn. 2:19).
Because Jesus is fully God, He has the power not only to forgive sins and restore mankind to sinlessness, but also to transform human persons to grow into the likeness of God Himself. And because Jesus is fully man, His deity filled His humanity and made possible the restoration and divinization (being filled up with and changed by God’s presence) of every aspect of what it means to be human.
To affirm that Christ is risen is to bear witness to and experience this reality, that sinful people can be united to Christ and healed of our spiritual wounds, given freedom from the power of death and separation from God (Heb. 2:14).
III. We can be saved.
Most of the time, when people talk about being “saved,” they only have in mind whether they will go to Heaven when they die. But salvation in Christ is much more. Because of Who Jesus Christ is, both God and man, He made possible the way for us to become like He is (Eph. 4:13; 1 Jn. 3:2). We can become by His grace what He Himself is by nature. That is, we can become human beings filled up with the divine presence. We who are made in God’s image can also take on His likeness, showing the presence of God to the whole world in our own presence.
This process requires participation in the life of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:18), repenting of sins (turning around and changing one’s life), being baptized into His death and resurrection (Col. 2:12), followed by being anointed with the gift of the Holy Spirit (chrismation/confirmation, Acts 2:38), and then partaking of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist (Jn. 6:53-56). This lifelong, sacramental, mystical experience of God Himself gradually changes flawed human beings into grace-filled, divinized sons and daughters of God.
The process of salvation involves a lifetime of struggle against our sinful tendencies, a serious dedication to put away the “old man” and to put on the “new” (2 Cor. 5:17). In doing so, sinners gradually transform into saints, the high calling of every man, woman and child on Earth.
So what about the Church?
When Jesus came to Earth, He founded a living community to be His Body of which He is the Head. This community , called the Church, began on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, soon spread throughout the Roman Empire, centered in the ancient cities of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem and then later beyond the imperial borders.
Over time, as heresies (false teachings) arose, various groups broke off from that first community of Christians. That original community remains, however, passing on the faith and experience given by Christ to His Apostles from one generation to another, without adding or subtracting anything.
That original Christian community is the Orthodox Christian Church (sometimes called “Eastern Orthodox” or “Greek Orthodox” or “Russian Orthodox). You are invited to come and see, to taste and experience the Gospel of Jesus Christ in your local Orthodox community. Come and spend a month of Sundays with us and experience how the God-man Jesus Christ wants to transform you.
The Protection (Pokrov) of the Most Holy Mother of God
“The Virgin today doth stand forth within the Church, and with the choirs of the Saints invisibly for us doth pray to God: angels with hierarchs make reverence, and apostles with prophets sing forth: for us the Birthgiver of God prayeth the Praeternal God” — this miraculous appearance of the Mother of God occurred in the mid-X Century at Constantinople, in the Blakhernae church where there was preserved the Robe of the Mother of God, Her Head-Veil (mathoria) and part of the Belt-Sash, transferred from Palestine in the V Century. On Sunday, 1 October, during the time of the all-night vigil, when the church was overflowing with those at prayer, the Fool-for-Christ Saint Andrew (Comm. 2 October) at the fourth hour of the night lifted up his eyes towards the heavens, and beheld coming through the air our MostHoly Lady Mother of God resplendent with an Heavenly light and surrounded by an assembly of the Saints. The holy Baptist of the Lord John and the holy Apostle John the Theologian accompanied the Queen of Heaven. On bended knee the MostHoly Virgin began with tears to pray for Christians and for a long time was at prayer. Then, coming nigh the Prestol’-Throne, She continued Her prayer, which having completed She then took from Her head the veil and spread it over the people praying in church, protecting them from enemies both visible and invisible. The MostHoly Lady Mother of God was resplendent with Heavenly glory, and the protecting veil in Her hands gleamed “more than the rays of the sun”. Saint Andrew gazed atrembling at the miraculous vision and he asked of his disciple Blessed Epiphanios standing alongside him: “Dost thou see, brother, the Queen and Lady, praying for all the world?” Epiphanios answered: “I do see, holy father, and I be in awe”. The Ever-Blessed Mother of God implored of the Lord Jesus Christ to accept the prayers of all the people, calling on His MostHoly Name and hastening in recourse to Her intercession. “O Heavenly King, — sayeth in prayer the Immaculate Queen standing aethereally amidst the Angels, — accept every person, that prayeth unto Thee and calleth on My Name for help, let them not go empty away unheard from before My Visage”. Saints Andrew and Epiphanios, granted to behold the Mother of God at prayer, “for a long time did gaze at the protecting veil spread over the people and the lightning like flashes in glory to the Lord; as long as the Most Holy Mother of God was there, so likewise was the protecting veil visible; but with Her departure it likewise became invisible, and though having taken it with Her, She left behind the grace of having been there”. At the Blakhernae church was preserved the memory of the miraculous appearance of the Mother of God. In the XIV Century, the Russian pilgrim and clerk Aleksandr saw within the church an icon of the MostHoly Mother of God praying for the world, and written such, as depicting Saint Andrew in contemplation of Her. But the Greek Church does not know this feast. [trans. note: i.e. does not historically celebrate this feast. Our Russian source is here reticent concerning the historical circumstances occasioning the necessary protective intercession of the Mother of God, and it reflects a great irony, that for the Russians rather than for the Greeks this should be an important feast, since it celebrates the Divine destruction by a storm of a large pagan-Russian fleet under Askold and Dir which threatened Constantinople itself, sometime in the years 864-867, or per the Russian historian Vasiliev on 18 June 860.
The Russian Primary Chronicle of Saint Nestor notes this miraculous deliverance following the all-night vigil and the dipping of the garment of the Mother of God into the waters of the sea at the Blakhernae church, but without mention of Saints Andrew and Epiphanios and their vision of the Mother of God at prayer. These latter elements, and the beginnings of the celebrating of the feast of Pokrov, seem to postdate Saint Nestor and the Chronicle. A further historical complication might be noted under the 2 October entry for Saint Andrew — that of his demise in the year 936. Either this year of death might not be quite reliable, or that he survived into quite extreme old age after the vision of his youth, or that his vision involved some historically later pagan-Russian raid which met with the same fate. The below suggestion likewise that the Saint Andrew of the vision was a Slav (or a Skyth per other sources, such as S. V. Bulgakov) — is a nice touch, but not necessarily chauvinism: the extent of historical South Slavic penetration and re-population into Greece is the stuff of scholarly disputes].
In the Prologue, a Russian book of the XII Century, is contained a description about the establishing of the special feastday in honour of this event: “For lo, when we heard, — we realised, how wondorus and merciful was the vision and moreover an expectation and intercession on our behalf, without celebration… and it transpired, that Thy holy Pokrov-Protection should not remain without festal-celebration, O Ever-Blessed One!”. Wherefore in the festal celebration of the Divine-services to the Pokrov-Protection of the Mother of God, the Russian Church intones: ” With the choirs of the Angels, O Sovereign Lady, with the venerable and glorious prophets, with the First-Ranked Apostles and with the PriestMartyrs and Sainted-hierarchs pray Thou for us sinners, glorifying the feast of Thine Protection in the Russian Land”. And moreover, it would seem that Saint Andrew, contemplating the miraculous vision, was a Slav, taken captive and at Constantinople given over into slavery to the local inhabitant named Theognost.
Churches in honour of the Pokrov-Protection of the Mother of God appeared in Russia in the XII Century. Widely known on its architectural merit is the temple of the Pokrov at Nerla, which was built in the year 1165 by holy Prince Andrei Bogoliubsky. Through the efforts of this holy prince was also established in the Russian Church the feast itself, the Pokrov-Protection of the Mother of God, in about the year 1164. At Novgorod in the XII Century there existed a monastery of the Pokrov of the MostHoly Mother of God (the so-called Zverinsk monastery); at Moscow also under tsar Ivan the Terrible was built the cathedral of the Pokrov of the Mother of God at the church of the Holy Trinity (known as the church of Saint Basil the Great).
On the feast of the Pokrov-Protection of the MostHoly Mother of God we implore the defense and assist of the Queen of Heaven: “Remember us in Thine prayers, O Lady Virgin Mother of God, that we perish not by the increase of our sins, protect us from every evil and from grievous woes; for on Thee do we hope, and venerating the feast of Thine Pokrov, Thee do we magnify”.
Brother Archpastors, Reverend Fathers, Brothers and Sisters:
We hereby bring to the attention of the archpastors and clergymen of our dioceses that the feast day of the Beheading of St John the Baptist, which this year falls on a Sunday, is also the tenth anniversary of the terrorist acts in the United States, which tore away from this vale of tears thousands of peaceful citizens. On this day, blessing is given to raise the following petitions during Divine Liturgy, and during a commemorative litany that should follow, to prayerfully remember all the victims of this terrible act of wickedness, preceding it with words of edification.
May our fervent prayers to God warm our hearts! May it warm and console both those who died, and those who survived!
With love in the Lord and a request for your prayers, +Hilarion,
Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York,
First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
During the litany of peace:
That there may be kindled in us the fervent love of God and our neighbor by the grace of His Most-holy Spirit, and thus burn out to the very roots the passions of all our souls and bodies, let us pray to the Lord.
That there may be uprooted in us hatred, envy and jealousy and all other passions which destroy brotherly love, and that there may be planted unfeigned love, fervently let us pray to the Lord.
During the augmented litany:
O Lord our God, as Thou art good, mercifully regard the ground of our heart, the love whereof hath dried up, and which hath been rendered grievously barren by the thorns of hatred, self-love and countless transgressions; and letting a drop of the grace of Thine all-holy Spirit fall, do Thou richly irrigate it, that it may be fruitful and, out of ardent love for Thee, bring forth the root of all the virtues—the fear of Thee, constant care for the salvation of our neighbor, and the uprooting of hypocrisy, divers evils, and all the passions. We earnestly entreat Thee, as the Benefactor of all: hearken swiftly and, in that Thou lovest mankind, have mercy.
O Master, Who gavest Thy disciples the new commandment to love one another, actively renew this within our souls through the grace of Thine all-holy Spirit, that we may in nowise take care for our own benefit, but ever for that which is pleasing unto Thee and for the salvation and good of our neighbor. We pray Thee, O merciful Benefactor, hearken and mercifully have mercy.
Thus do Thou cause Thy love to dwell within us, through the grace of Thine all-holy Spirit, O most compassionate Lord, that, in accordance with Thy commandment, we may truly love not only our brethren and friends, but also our enemies, may do good to those who hate us, and may earnestly strive for their salvation. We pray Thee, O Source of goodness and Abyss of love for mankind: hearken swiftly and, as Thou art compassionate, have mercy.
O our God, move us, through the grace of Thy Spirit, to have unfeigned love for our neighbor, that we may be made perfect in Thy Love, O Master. For he who thinketh that he hath love for Thee, yet hateth his brother, is a liar, and walketh in darkness. Wherefore, O Merciful One, enkindle our souls and hearts with love for Thee and our brethren. We pray Thee, in that Thou art merciful: hearken swiftly and, as Thou art compassionate, have mercy.